China started a military exercise near the Taiwan Strait on 18 September. This is a new warning from Beijing to the United States and pro-independence forces in Taiwan to coincide with a visit to the self-ruled island of a senior US diplomat.
Chinese defence ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang said in a press conference this morning that the PLA’s Eastern Theatre Command would begin actual combat exercises near the strait “starting today”.
“This is a legitimate and necessary action taken in response to the current situation across the Taiwan Strait and the safeguarding of national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Ren said.
US Under-Secretary of State Keith Krach will meet Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen on 18 September. He is the most senior state department official to visit the island in 41 years.
“Recently, the US and the Democratic Progressive Party authorities have stepped up their relationship and frequently caused incidents. No matter whether the aim is to counter China or raise the DPP’s status, it is wishful thinking and is destined to be a dead end,” Ren said.
“The Chinese People’s Liberation Army has firm will, full confidence, and sufficient capabilities to thwart all external interference and separatist acts of ‘Taiwan independence’ and resolutely defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
On the eve of Krach’s visit, two Chinese warplanes approached Taiwan in yet another incursion, signalling growing mainland hostility towards the island.
The Y-8 anti-submarine aircraft briefly entered the southwest of the island’s air defence identification zone in the night of 16 September and were warned off by Taiwan’s air force.
Krach is the second high-ranking US official to visit Taiwan this year. Earlier last month, Secretary of Health Alex Azar became the highest ranking American official to visit the island since 1979.
Eastern Theatre Command spokesman Zhang Chunhui said recent naval and air force drills would spruce up China’s combat capabilities across the services.
“The relevant actions are necessary measures to deal with the current situation in the Taiwan Strait, and will help improve the Eastern Theatre Command to defend national unity and territorial sovereignty,” Zhang said, in a statement released by the Chinese defence ministry on 18 September.
Zhang added that the Eastern Theatre Command was “confident and determined” it would “defeat anyone and any force, in any form of planning and implementing pro-independence separatist activities”.
US President Donald Trump had labelled China a strategic competitor in late 2017, at a time when the two countries were imposing tit-for-tat tariffs against each other. Since then, relations between China and the US have plummeted to an abyss in decades as the two powers clash on issues ranging from diplomacy to technology and military.
In July, both China and the US conducted naval exercises in the South China Sea, the entire maritime area of which Beijing contentiously claims to be its own, raising risks of military conflict in the disputed region.